Rescuers tackle chilly mission Tuesday night | CraigDailyPress.com

Rescuers tackle chilly mission Tuesday night

Lauren Blair

— Rescuers endured minus-25 degree temperatures Tuesday night to help two men stranded in a snowcat in northwest Routt County.

Just before 9 p.m., the men used a SPOT device to send out a distress signal.

Volunteers from the Routt and Moffat County search and rescue groups did not immediately know what they were facing. The SPOT device provided GPS coordinates for a location in California Park but no other information.

Moffat County sent in three rescuers from Black Mountain on snowmobile and two rescuers in a snowcat. Routt County sent in five people from Routt County Road 80 on snowmobile. For both groups, they had to travel about 20 miles in temperatures that were 25 below zero.

Classic Air Medical sent in a crew of three people on their rescue helicopter based in Steamboat Springs.

Routt County Search and Rescue Incident Commander Delbert Bostock said the Classic Air Medical crew reached the men first. The Moffat County rescuers arrived shortly afterward. By 1:30 a.m., the men arrived at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, and they were not injured.

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Bostock said the men — Duane Core and Leeland Mischke — are Moffat County residents who had gotten a snowcat stuck in a creek bed while grooming snowmobile trails for the Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club. Bostock described the location as being about 1 1/2 miles south of the old California Park guard station.

"They were trying to break out some new snowmobile trail out in California Park, and they dropped through a beaver dam and got it stuck in a beaver dam," said Dave Watson, a snowmobile club board member and snowcat operator.

The groomer’s engine was disabled because it was in water.

“They had no heat and no survival gear,” Bostock said.

By about 3:20 a.m., Routt County rescuers were headed back to Steamboat.

“It was a long, cold night,” Search and Rescue volunteer Kristia Check-Hill said Wednesday morning. “It was brutal but well worth it.”

The Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club's eight volunteer snowcat operators groom 110 miles of snowmobile trails weekly in Moffat and Routt counties from Black Mountain to Slater Creek to California Park.

The club purchased the snowcat about one year ago at a cost of about $170,000, Watson said. With the frigid temperatures, Watson said it would be a difficult operation to pull the snowcat out.

"At 34 below zero, it's going to be froze in. It's going to be difficult," Watson said. "It's going to take another snowcat to rescue that one out because we're going to have to have a winch to pull it up out of the beaver dam. … We're going to try to get it out of there as soon as we can."

The area is extremely popular among snowmobilers, with Black Mountain recently being named one of the top areas to snowmobile in the West by SnoWest Magazine.

With the fate of the club's snowcat unknown — whether it will be pulled out or if the machine still works — the trails may remain ungroomed for some time.

"If it's down for a couple days or for a week, it's no big deal," Craig snowmobile enthusiast Gary Cole said. "But if it's down for a couple months, it will become impassable."

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.